With tackling the climate emergency and toxic air rightfully moving up the political agenda, the Government must now consider the role of transport and its impact on the environment. Around a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transport – more than any other sector – and roads are the biggest contributor to poor air quality.
If the Government is serious about a greener, healthier future, then it must encourage people to move away from the car and give active forms of travel – cycling and walking – the political priority and funding they have been denied.
There is huge potential for many people to get about more by bike or on foot. More than 60% of journeys between one and two miles are made by motor vehicle and fewer than 2% by bike. Cycling and walking needs to become the natural choice for shorter journeys and be seen as a viable part of longer distance travel.
The Government has said that it wants to reverse the decline in walking and double cycling activity by 2025, but has failed to provide any updates on progress towards achieving these goals.
That is why the Transport Committee decided to look into the issue itself. And the overwhelming message from all the evidence we received is that the Government has not been ambitious enough. They have not shown leadership or championed active travel and have failed to find the money needed to make a real difference to levels of walking and cycling.
We were told that the target for increasing levels of walking was too conservative. And although the target to double the number of cycling stages by 2025 is more ambitious, Cycling UK told us that once this is adjusted for population growth and activity in London, it only amounts to a 74% increase in trips per person outside London. They told us that, at this rate, England would reach Dutch levels of cycle use shortly before the start of the 23rd century.
We heard from local authorities from several areas – London, Manchester and Brighton to name but a few – who have already achieved great things and hope to do even more. But if new and more ambitious targets for walking and cycling are to be achieved, the Government has to provide the leadership, guidance and financial support that local authorities need to make active travel a priority and deliver the improvements that will make walking and cycling attractive travel alternatives. The committee’s report calls on the Government to publish a draft revised strategy for consultation.
More must also be done on funding. Extra cash is essential to making the improvements that are needed if levels of walking and cycling are to be increased.
The Government has said that £2bn will be spent on active travel from 2016 to 2021, and that this is a huge increase on spending in previous Parliaments. But this is just £400m a year, around 1.5% of transport spending in England.
The Walking and Cycling Alliance has said that walking and cycling should receive 5% of transport spending by 2020, and 10% by 2024.This is the kind of step-change in funding that is required if we are to see real increases in levels of walking and cycling.
Getting active by walking and cycling as part of our daily routine is good for us; it’s good for our health and saves on the cost of healthcare. It can reduce congestion, improve air quality, increase productivity and drive footfall in our town centres.
If the Government is committed to cutting emissions to net zero by 2050, then greener transport must be at the forefront of its approach and just swapping petrol and diesel vehicles for electric ones is not the answer.
More use of public transport is vital but now is the time for walking and cycling to be given the attention and funding it deserves.
Lilian Greenwood is Labour MP for Nottingham South and chair of the Transport Committee